Lozenge night, huh?
They had another of those ceaseless promotions here. Shaquille O'Neal told the crowd to yell loud and he would pay for lozenges. This was, of course, a hype. When Shaq was asked about it the next day, he said to petition Amway, Orlando Magic owner Rich DeVos' company.
Then a lozenge company, sniffing the sweet perfume of publicity, handed out its wares at the door.
The lozenges could have come in handy Wednesday, helping the young Magic players swallow. Can we have another box for Mr. Nick Anderson?
Anderson missed four free throws in the dying seconds of regulation, giving Houston a last chance at a tying three-pointer, a longshot in normal times but not for these Rockets this spring. Kenny Smith--who else?--shed Penny Hardaway, stepped behind him and knocked in the three-ball with 1.6 seconds left, as easy as you please. The game went overtime, Hakeem Olajuwon won it with a tip-in and the fairy tale continues.
Said Olajuwon: "We knew the way he [Smith] was shooting, we knew this was supposed to be our night."
What can one say but . . . Kenny Smith ?
To put it delicately, Smith is not one of the best-regarded players in the NBA.
In last spring's finals, he took the part of the swan in "Swan Lake." He looked like he was well into the sequel--Swoon II?--when Hardaway, who averaged 29.5 points against the Rockets this season, lit him up for a fast 11 points in the first quarter. Rocket Coach Rudy Tomjanovich hurried Sam Cassell into the game and the press corps started thinking up bad things to say about Smith.
"He's a hard match for everybody," Smith said later. "He scores on everybody. He's 6-foot-9, 6-8 [6-7, actually], playing the point guard position. I've seen him in games in situations where he posts up the four man [power forward], so he's tough."
An amazing thing happened after that.
The Rockets, trailing by 20 with 3:47 left in the half, rallied.
In this postseason, they have rallies of all kinds. This was like Game 7 at Phoenix, where they were out of it early, sneaked back into the game and ruined the Suns' party.
In a burst that lasted from the last 3:47 of the second quarter to 16 seconds into the fourth, they went on a 52-23 run, taking a nine-point lead. The big burst came late in the third quarter with four three-pointers in a row, three by Smith. "During the first half," Smith said, "I had a lot of opportunities and I didn't feel comfortable shooting the ball. In the second half, I got into slots a little quicker and the shot was blessed and they started going in."
The greatest blessing was yet to come.
The Magic led, 110-107, when Anderson was fouled with 10 seconds left in regulation.
He missed both free throws.
However, the Magic rebounded the second miss and held on until the Rockets fouled Anderson again with seven seconds left.
Nick went brick-brick.
This time, the Rockets rebounded, called time out with 6.1 seconds left and set up a play for Smith.
"It was pretty much set up for me to come off a pick-and-roll," Smith said, "and I saw Brian Shaw [actually Hardaway] was playing me real tight. I figured if I came off the pick, I wasn't going to get into anything. I just tried to break him down in the open court. He jumped outside and I got my right hand free."
Next thing you know, the ball was in the hoop.
Next thing you know, the Rockets won in overtime for their sixth in a row on the road. They were still magic and the Magic could start thinking.
"This team is so talented and the egos are so huge, they don't realize what's in store for them in the finals," said Horace Grant, the only Orlando player with finals experience a couple of days ago. "I think the guys are thinking that this is only another playoff series. They don't realize they're in the finals yet."
They do now.
The crowd watched in stunned silence. Olajuwon said it was so quiet when his game-winner dropped, he didn't realize it counted.
As fans filed out, the P.A. announcer made the standard offer of roadside assistance. He should have thrown in the number of suicide prevention. In Orlando, they're way past lozenges now.